SYDNEY–Australia’s new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has lost the lead which swept him to power in September, with voters unconvinced by his response on asylum-seekers and climate, a poll showed Monday. The first Nielsen poll since the Sept. 7 election, published in Fairfax newspapers, puts the opposition Labor Party ahead of Abbott’s Liberal/National coalition by 52 percent to 48 percent. The Sydney Morning Herald said it was the first time in more than three years that Labor was in front. “It is a surprising result and I think in that case it’s always wise to wait and see if it’s confirmed by further polling,” Nielsen’s research director John Stirton told broadcaster ABC. “But it does suggest that the Abbott government is having one of the shortest honeymoons probably in history.” Abbott romped to victory at the election with 53.5 percent of the vote, but his government has since been criticized over its handling of asylum-seekers arriving by boat while its plans to tackle climate change lack broad support.
Tensions have also risen with Indonesia over allegations that Australian intelligence targeted the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle in 2009, claims which have enraged Jakarta. Abbott leads Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister — 49 percent to 41 percent — in the poll which surveyed 1,400 people from Thursday to Saturday. But analysts said it should serve as a wake-up call.
“Some honeymoon. The first post-election Herald-Nielsen poll is a reality check for (Abbott’s) coalition MPs who think the election was an emphatic vote for their people and policies. It wasn’t,” the Herald said in an analysis. The poll revealed that only 42 percent of those questioned approved of the way the government was handling the introduction of its hardline policy on asylum-seekers, which involves turning back the boats and limiting the information given to the public. While most voters support Abbott’s decision to scrap a carbon tax on industrial polluters, only 12 percent backed its proposed replacement. Scrapping the tax was a central election promise for Abbott who argued that the cost of the levy was passed on to consumers, resulting in higher utility bills and day-to-day costs. His government is pushing to introduce a “direct action” plan that includes an incentive fund to pay companies to increase their energy efficiency, a controversial sequestration of carbon in soil scheme, and the planting of 20 million trees. Labor leapt on the results, with Shorten saying: “This is the not the government we were told they would be before the election.”